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Dealing with excuses for inaction PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 06 January 2005




My thanks to Mayer Hillman’s list from How We Can Save The Planet upon which I based this list.


This document aims to help give some thoughts and responses for common excuses you will come across when talking to people about the oil depletion problem.  This is not the same as providing a response for every technical question that people may throw at you, but rather answers for the responses people will give then they try not to think about it.  Although this does not deal with every response you may get, and although it does not give every answer, it should go some way to assisting you.


Why do people need excuses?


The idea that everything we know and take for granted might not be sustainable and that significant changes to our lifestyles are necessary is not one that people are generally willing to accept.  In a world where we are promised permanent long term growth, where growth is good and a progress and advancement are the norm, the thought of that not being the case is difficult to immediately grasp and it is easier to simply not think about the problem, after all, technology will save us, ‘they’ will do something about it, there’s nothing I can do about it, it’s not my problem and how I run my life is my business – never mind all those other problems we have to deal with and I’ve got a lot of other things to think about and even if there was a problem, we will adapt. 



I don’t believe in oil depletion, or that it will cause a problem.


This probably won’t come up if you’ve explained the situation clearly – that our society is built on oil, our entire way of modern life is dependent on oil – more precisely cheap oil – and there is, at most, only 40 yrs of this stuff left at current consumption rates – and consumption is increasing which means depletion will be faster – these are facts and figures from bodies such as the CIA, Exxon and BP & the G8!  It will not take 40 years for the problems to show themselves.  It will happen a lot sooner when the world’s needs simply cannot be met.  By the end of 2004 there was less than 1% spare capacity in the system.


Oil depletion is a fact.  It is the blood of our societies – everything from agriculture to transport to commercial activity is deeply dependent on it.  When you start taking that away, societies have to change.  There is little doubt that the Iraq war was about securing access to the second largest oil reserves in the world – you cannot say that is not a problem.  You cannot say what nearly happened to Britain during the fuel protests of 2000 or that the 1970’s oil crisis did not cause a problem.  And this time the problem will be permanent.


Everyone agrees that oil will become much scarcer, much more expensive within our lifetimes. 



People have been predicting the end of oil for ages and it has never come about.


The main difference from the past is that understanding about oil and how and where it forms has increased dramatically.  Oil forms in very specific geological formations and conditions.  Most of these areas have been explored.  Oil discovery peaked in 1967.  Non-OPEC production peaked in 1997.  Worldwide demand is increasing.  Many reputable bodies accept the fact.


However it is not so much the end of oil that is the problem but rather the end of cheap oil – cheap oil = cheap lifestyles = lifestyles we enjoy today. 



Technology will save us.


It might. But don’t bet on it.  We have been led to believe that through science & technology man can do anything.  Indeed there are options in the way of renewable energy and fuel cells but the simple fact is that most these technologies are still a long way off from being economically viable.  Furthermore the amount of energy required to be produced and stored by these new sources to replace oil, the most versatile, transportable and energy-dense thing in history is staggering.  For Britain alone to use biodiesel instead of the oil it currently uses it would requite land 5 times the size of Britain. 


We are going to need that land for growing food!  And creating electricity is not even the biggest problem – it is replacing oil in all the products and agriculture – and there is no easy solution to that. 


Technology will go some way to helping us, but not enough, and certainly not in time, to maintain the lifestyles we now enjoy.  What will save us is changing the way we live to become less dependent on oil.   That is a lot easier said than done, but it is prudence to prepare for it while we can rather than when we have to.  Any change to a more sustainable way of living needs to be conducted as soon as possible to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible.


A lot of people may say that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.  The truth is that invention is the mother of necessity – the car, the TV, cosmetics, fertilizer – these inventions have become necessities and we are dependent on them.


Although it is easy, it is dangerous to assume technology will save us, or alternatively, don't count your chickens before they're hatched.


The government is doing something about it.


Yes they are.  They’re invading countries to secure oil.  They’re making token gestures in terms of renewable energy.  They’re making deals to secure oil and gas for Britain up to 2020 when we’ll be importing 75% of our oil & gas.  They’re gently suggesting people are a bit more efficient with their energy.  But the problem is fundamentally that Political parties want to get in to power.  And stay there.  To do that they need to implement policies that are popular.  It is easier to implement policies that are popular rather than good – see, for example, smoking, or tackling climate change.  Either of those would require significant lifestyle challenges that would alienate the voters.  Since governments only have 4 to 5 years in power it is not sufficient time to implement unpopular policies and to make them stick.  Another problem is that it is difficult to implement unpopular policies especially when there is no immediate practical benefit. 


I blame the government/America/Corporations/China/India.


Don’t.  Blame yourself.  Blame the people around you.  We’re part of the system.  It is our dependence on oil that creates this problem.  Governments & corporations wouldn’t pursue oil if we didn’t want it.  And of course we want it – it is an amazing substance that makes our lives so much easier. Can you really blame China, India and the rest of the world for wanting more of the black gold?



Shooting the messenger.


Some people may attack you personally for being a greeny, for being left-wing, communist or whatever.  But you’re probably like me – you love all the things that cheap oil brings but you’re also concerned about society and you just want to help people think about and prepare for this problem.  They may also call you a hypocrite for driving a car or being dependent on oil.  But remember, you’re not suggesting that we stop using oil, but more that people are aware and begin preparing for the future ahead.



It’s not my problem / someone else will sort it


Yes it is.  This will affect you, your friends, your family.  It is your problem.  And it will happen in your lifetime.  If you use oil, it is your problem. 


Other people will – and are – working to deal with this problem but it is going to require involvement from everyone to succeed.



There’s nothing I can do about it.


There’s plenty you can – and should – do about it.  IT is easy to feel that there is nothing you can do, especially with such a large problem, and/or a dislike for change.  But it is not too late and there is no limit to what we can achieve both individually and collectively.  Even telling other people about it is doing something about it.  But the longer we leave it the harder it will be to prepare as a society.  Other things you can do are vote for parties that share your view, such as the Green party, and also vote with your money with what you buy – organic local food, fuel-efficient cars, recycled products.  And recycle more.  Change your electricity to one that comes entirely from renewable energy such as ecotricity.



How I run my life is my business.


Our own self-centred and short-term gratification needs to be seen in context.  If you do not care about the future, about your descendents, then there is not much that is going to change your mind.  Do we have a right to make decisions for ourselves while ignoring the long-term societal consequences.



There are other more important & urgent problems to tackle.


There are a lot of problems in the world that need addressing.  But these problems will be dwarfed in the future if we are not prepared for the economic and social consequences of the end of cheap oil.  A stitch in time saves nine, as the saying goes.  There is no reason why this problem cannot be addressed at the same time as others.


At least I am doing something.


Maybe they use public transport or vote green or buy local & organic food or recycle but there is still more that can be done – especially raising awareness of this issue.



It won’t affect me in my lifetime.


If you don’t expect to live beyond 2020, maybe it won’t affect you that seriously.  For anyone else – considering your job is ultimately based on oil, will it affect you?  Considering your way of life is ultimately based on oil, will it affect you?  Is it worth you getting a private pension if the economy is going to be messed up?  And with the likelihood of more oil wars increasing – and potentially more terrorism as a result – are you sure if won’t affect you in your lifetime?



We will adapt / We survived without oil before


We will have to.  But when, and how, and at what pace?  The problem is not so much the destination – a low-carbon society in 100years for example – but rather how do we get there?  Is it a managed energy-culture transition, a smooth landing as it were, or do go through the intense turbulence that will be caused by not being prepared?  Yes, it is possible to live in a world without oil, but, for example, how is a UK population of 60million sustained when the oil runs low?  And so we want to give up so much that has society achieved simply because we did not prepare in time?



I’ve got to much else to think about / I don’t want to think about it.


You’re not alone.  This is a big problem and seems a long way off.  We are much nearer the problem than the solution though.  To not think about it – to not act upon it – is a betrayal of your future.  It does not have to be in your every waking thought but you need to be aware of it and not forget it. 



(This is a work in progress and all contributions to improving it are welcomed)

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