By Roger Diamond

Your grandmother passing away at a ripe old age from general ailments will never make the headlines. A person in their prime, stricken by a nasty disease or a fatal accident is always good, newsworthy material. This seems to be a simple formula, which rules in all fields and areas of information, knowledge and behaviour. The rule’s like this: the expected is known and therefore not worth knowing more about; the unexpected is exactly that and therefore worth finding more about because each case may be slightly different. Furthermore, this information may prove useful for your survival — if you learn about something to be avoided or be careful about.

The question of why climate change is sexy and peak oil is not, is an interesting one. You may all have your own ideas, but today I’ll put down what I think the difference is. I believe the answer lies in the above observation about newsworthiness. Climate change is undoubtedly a wild card. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen. Hence the perennial interest in the weather, as it’s always changing and can bring the unexpected. Add in the possibility of storms and you have the perfect media story. Hence the intense interest in what is quite a scientific and complex debate. But just about everybody who can read has some knowledge of it and some genuine interest. Climate change is like a healthy body being stricken by some wild and unknown disease with potentially fatal consequences.

Peak oil is quite the opposite. The depletion of a finite resource is obvious. Primary school children grasp this concept easily. The consequences of peak oil, at least the immediate ones, are also very predictable — less oil. This scenario is very much like your grandmother passing away. The exact date and illness and her condition at the time can be debated endlessly, but the essential truth and final consequence — your grandmother no longer being around to make pancakes for you or discreetly grabbing a swig of whisky at Christmas — is obvious. You will have to live without her and learn to make your own pancakes!

To confirm my opinion, let’s look at two relatively recent bits of news related to oil. A year or two back, Mexico’s largest oil field, Cantarell, reached peak production. This was significant globally because Mexico was a fairly large oil producer and was also next to the largest oil user, the US. Now both of these countries are going to need to import oil (the US has been doing this for many years now). This piece of news slipped the international media like a well-greased button on a railway line, out of sight with hardly anyone noticing.

In contrast, geographically around the corner from Mexico, in the Gulf of Mexico, an oil well has just gone awry and is bleeding millions of gallons of oil into the ocean. This dramatic event has grabbed international attention for many days. This is a far less significant event for the world’s economy than Mexico reaching national peak oil, although it may influence decisions on deep-sea oil production, which does have larger implications. Quite simply, the oil-well disaster is unexpected and may have further unknown effects — therefore a sexy news item.

If you have any suggestions on how to make peak oil sexy, let me know!

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