Passover ends on Sunday night, and I want to write one last time about the thinking it provokes. In the exodus story, Pharaoh’s power-mad distortion is such that he persists in refusing to free the slaves, even after his own advisors warn him that his policies are resulting in Egypt’s destruction. My friend Arthur Waskow has been working for some time on the differing ways Pharaoh arises in each generation, and lately, he has argued persuasively that one of the manifestations of Pharaonic power in our time is Big Oil and its supporters. For instance, read his essay Plague 7: Global Scorching & Pharaoh’s Advisers.
This year, the analogy seems particularly important because alarm is gathering about what has come to be called “Peak Oil,” the moment at which geologic oil reserves peak, so that it becomes increasingly difficult, expensive and unrewarding to get the stuff out of the ground. No one can say precisely when the peak is reached in a given oil region until after it has happened. Here in the U.S. for instance, oil companies scoffed at predictions that domestic fields would peak in the 70s, citing record-breaking production levels as that decade dawned; but as it happened, those record years signalled arrival at the peak, which is why we must today look to the Mideast to fuel our oil-guzzling society. So no one knows exactly when global oil will peak, but there is surprisingly little disagreement that the peak is coming soon, and it will be felt nowhere more than in the United States, the world’s most oil-addicted society.
A dear friend gave me a film to watch that explains all this in clear and accessible terms: how our addiction to oil was cultivated by the people who profit from it; how it has continued despite all warnings that it cannot be sustained; and how dwindling oil supplies could wreak havoc with the way of life to which we have become accustomed. “The End of Suburbia,” a prize-winning Canadian documentary directed by Gregory Greene, is well worth watching. The film and the writers and scientists featured in it are generating a tremendous amount of interest and concern about an issue that is barely being covered in the mainstream press, despite its urgent importance. At the film’s Web site, you can buy a home video or DVD, link to activist groups, and learn more about how to raise awareness and respond to this crisis.
What struck me most powerfully in the film is how we allowed ourselves to be led into slavery by corporations that profited personally from oil addiction, and how thus far, we have resisted kicking the habit despite a lot of solid information and common sense argument about why we should. It seems a textbook case of internalizing the world-views of those who at bottom do not have our well-being in mind, who care only for their own greed.
The least well-documented part of the argument is the filmmakers’ certainty that alternative energy sources are too late and too little to prevent disastrous social breakdown; I would need more information and less opinion to entirely credit that prediction. (But if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I’m not likely to credit predictions in general, remembering that life is full of surprises.) Even so, the filmmakers’ and their subjects’ prescriptions seem entirely sensible: face the truth, reduce gas-guzzling, reduce the need for individual oil-consuming transportation, emphasize cluster development instead of the type of suburban development that multiplies energy use, and stress local self-reliance, building cooperative systems of mutual and self-help.
My husband and I together own one car because that’s all we can afford. I’ve been dreaming about how to afford another one, avoiding all the inconvenience of scheduling and carpooling entailed in being a one-car household. But right now, I’m feeling rather grateful that Pharaoh didn’t get his hooks any further into our life, and the inconvenience seems slight. I can’t know if such small steps will prevent our experiencing a new crop of plagues before this Pharaoh relents. But any exodus must proceed one step at a time.